Feature nola-suspects-5x8-by-jeffrey-dupuis

Published on May 28th, 2013 | by Ballard Lesemann


The New Orleans Suspects Return with Crescent City Cache

The New Orleans Suspects have the distinction of being one of the latest Crescent City funk acts on the American jam band circuit, and they boast a genuine all-star roster. Comprised of veterans from legendary New Orleans groups the Radiators, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, and the Neville Brothers, they groove with genuine authority and authenticity.

“We all have a bunch of different influences, and we value that because that’s where we come from, but we’re not trying to slavishly recreate anything,” says electric bassist Reggie Scanlan. “Everybody’s got their own style of playing, so it’s one of those things where we’re just trying to get all the gear going together. It eventually becomes an individual sound.”

Scanlan performed with James Booker and Professor Longhair before going on a 33-year run with the R&B ‘n’ blues-tinged Radiators from the late 1970s through the 2000s. He helped form the New Orleans Suspects in 2011 after a series of jam sessions at the legendary Maple Leaf music club uptown in the neighborhood. The initial roster featured drummer “Mean” Willie Green of the Neville Bros., pianist C.R. Gruver of Outformation, and guitarist Jake Eckert and sax player Kevin Harris, both of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Saxophonist Jeff Watkins (of the James Brown Band and the Joss Stone Band) replaced Harris last summer, solidifying the official lineup.

“We were all basically veteran sidemen,” Scanlan laughs. “We’ve backed up some big-time acts and musicians over the years, but none of us are accustomed to VIP star treatment.”


The suspicious cats of the New Orleans Suspects (photo by Jeffrey DuPuis)

During their first year on the road and in the studio, Suspect’s ever-evolving set list became a healthy mix of old-school blues, funk standards, and obscurities with a slew of soul-based originals with plenty of authentic New Orleans flavor.

“New Orleans music carries a cache with it wherever you go,” Scanlan says. “People love it. It’s fun upbeat, and unique. You don’t find it in every place in the country. The music really travels well, you know? We find a lot of audiences just dive into it.”

They could render classic New Orleans tunes like Earl King’s “Big Chief” or Professor Longhair’s “Tipitina.” They could jam on deep cuts by Little Feat, Taj Mahal, Dr. John, or other curiosities from their record collections. Everyone in the band knew the same music and spoke the same musical language.

“We might do a Radiators song, but because of the way Willie plays drums or the way Jake plays guitar, it doesn’t sound the way it did when the Radiators did it,” Scanlan says. “It has a whole new treatment to it. The same goes for a Neville Brothers or something like that.”

“We play together so much these days, on the road and in the studio, that we’re constantly fine-tuning things and getting tighter,” Scanlan adds. “We’ve all had to learn new tricks and techniques with the new material. For example, I’ve had to learn how to play bass within a brass-band type of song. We’re all constantly challenging ourselves. With all of the components together, it’s a really natural fit with great chemistry.”

The band recorded and released a self-titled, nine-song debut in the summer of 2012. They followed later in the year with a live album titled Caught Live at the Maple Leaf. Scanlan and his bandmates are currently in the middle of sessions for their second studio album — a collection comprised entirely of new originals.

“We always cut the bass, drums, and guitars live in a room so we can maintain a live feel on the recordings,” Scanlan says. “We’re all there at one time, so it makes the music more cohesive. You know, one thing I learned from the late Jim Dickinson in the studio was to simply go for the feel. That’s how we try to approach it. And everybody is considered a songwriter and every idea gets looked at and listened to. We’re all free to bring in material and critique material — and we critique each other like crazy.”

For a well-seasoned veteran, Scanlan sounds genuinely giddy about the groovy blues, rock, and soul music he and his new bandmates are composing and reworking these days. Fans and critics seem to be wildly enthusiastic about the group’s rich texture and bonafide funk, too.

“These guys in the Suspects are the most killer, positive musicians, and I can’t say enough good stuff about them,” Scanlan says. “They totally challenge me every time, and I’m thrilled for that. For me, it’s been a reinvigorating experience. The time and circumstances meshed so well when we first got together, and I was particularly excited to do new things with a new band.”

The New Orleans Suspects perform at the Pour House at 9 p.m. on Fri. May 31. Tickets are available for $15 at the door and $13 in advance. Check out neworleanssuspects.com for more.

Top photo by Jeffrey DuPuis.




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About the Author

Ballard Lesemann

is a musician and writer. Born and raised in Charleston, S.C., he spent years playing in bands and working for Flagpole Magazine in the bustling music town of Athens, Ga. He returned to his hometown and served more than seven years as the Charleston City Paper's music editor. He's better at drumming than he is at playing guitar.

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